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A samurai wielding a sword

A Samurai Master's 9 Rules For Success in Life


One of ancient Japan’s legendary warriors bequeathed a code for better living.

To the contemporary imagination, samurai warriors remain symbols of honor, courage and discipline. These three qualities are desirable not only for the life dedicated to battle but for existence itself. And this perhaps makes a look at them useful for any of the struggles we face, and on all of their many fronts.

Beyond the samurais’ “warlike” vision of life, there’s no doubt that their code of conduct retains some remarkable and worthwhile teachings. At the end of the day, like many other attempts to govern human behavior, the samurais’ manner of thinking, and their methods reformed over time, oriented them toward the attainment of a certain ideal of life, and this was for the benefit of both the individual and the community.

Among the most notable participants in the elaboration of the samurai code of conduct was Miyamoto Musashi. In addition to handling the sword with fearsome mastery, he was also a philosopher and writer; he practiced calligraphy and painting with ink; he was a teacher to many young people and the author of treatises on the art of sword handling, on military strategy, and to still others, on the spirit of the life of the samurai warrior. It’s also worth noting that Musashi was not a samurai as such, but a “ronin”, a term given to warriors who’d lost their masters either due to death or to a loss of favor.

Within the philosophy of this legendary warrior, one of the fundamental principles is the necessary union between the student and the technique: like the bulb and the flower, one cannot exist without the other. By itself, this is already a great lesson. It reminds us that, in life, learning never stops, that each of us never stops being an apprentice to the skill of living and that, therefore, the technique of living is a work in progress which can always be improved.

The main work that’s come down to us is The Book of the Five Rings, into which Musashi poured his strategic wisdom. It’s said that to write the book, Musashi lived the life of an ascetic for almost two years, isolated in a cave on the island of Kyushu.

Musashi divided the work, as noted in its title, into five books, of which the first four are subtitled with the four fundamental elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Wind). The fifth closes the collection with the Void.

At the end of the first book, dedicated to the Earth, Musashi wrote these nine simple rules of conduct for the samurai warrior. Even in their brevity, they constitute a remarkable guide for reflection and later decisiveness for our own existence, insofar as they are precepts that demand understanding and continual exercise.

  1. Do not think dishonestly. Think honestly and truthfully. Do not harbor sinister designs.
  2. The Way is in training. One must always continue to train.
  3. Become acquainted with every art.
  4. Know the Way of all professions.
  5. Know the difference between loss and gain in worldly matters.
  6. Develop intuitive judgement and understanding for everything.
  7. Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
  8. Pay attention even to trifles.
  9. Do nothing which is of no use.

It’s possible to imagine each of these tips as tasks to fulfill. Perhaps we could try one day to follow, for example, the first, and to think only honestly and sincerely. If we succeed one day, follow the second and so on for several more of the following points. Surely with an exercise of this kind, apparently simple, our lives might change radically. 

Everything, after all, is a matter of training.

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